Women in fiction…If a heroine cries, does that make her weak?
It seems everyone has a different opinion on what makes a woman strong. I’ve seen people comment in book reviews that because a heroine cried it made her look weak. Is it really that simple? Is a woman who never cries–no matter what happens to her or the people she cares about–the ideal? In fact, is it the ideal for either gender?
Individual perception is everything, but I’ll give my take on this.
There are times when it is natural for a woman to let her pent-up emotions out. Show the reader she is suffering and not some hardened shell of nothingness. She wouldn’t seem human otherwise. If she has suffered through horrific events, loss of family/friends, or serious health problems (maybe all of the above if the author likes to make their characters extra miserable) most readers would expect some kind of visible reaction. It doesn’t have to be in a public place, or in front of anyone for that matter, but even a brief scene showing emotional turmoil can go a long way. The average reader will be drawn in further and develop sympathy by seeing it.
Strong people in real life cry.
I saw it many times while in combat zones with both men and women, but I’ll give an example to help clarify. A bomb hit an Army dining facility at a base in northern Iraq just before Christmas. One of the guys I worked with, someone I respected a lot, had been up there on a brief trip and eating his meal when it hit. He was sitting across the table from a good friend of his. The friend was hit by flying debris that tore his body up and killed him on the spot. My coworker survived with only minor cuts and scratches, though just a few feet separated them.
He came back to our camp a couple of days later in a numb state of shock. You could see it written all over his face. I have no doubt he cried at some point when no one could see him. Did that make him weak? I should hope not. A few days later he pulled himself back together. His anguish was no longer apparent, but I’m sure he’ll carry the visuals of that day for a long time. A lot of soldiers died in that dining facility and it would be natural to feel some survivors guilt. I know I cried for a lot of friends who lost their lives and wondered why them and not me? I never let it show when work had to be done, but when it was safe and private, I let those feelings out. You can’t survive seeing the kinds of crazy things that happen over there otherwise. It will eat at you.
My point is this. If a heroine cries at the appropriate times, I don’t think there is anything wrong with it. She isn’t any less strong and maybe more so for letting herself feel. The only time, in my opinion, that it gets annoying is if she is screaming and crying right in the midst of danger or making ridiculous scenes that no half-sane woman would make. That will lower my opinion of her. Kind of like horror movies that always have the young, pretty woman who can’t even run from the serial killer with an ax because she is too busy crying and falling down. Those kind are what I call “too stupid to live” and I lack any sympathy for them. Don’t write that kind of character if you want her to be respected.
There are probably a lot of scenarios I didn’t cover here where crying may or may not be appropriate. It isn’t a one size fits all type of situation. Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts. I’d love to hear them.